Nigeria Opinion

Restructuring a contraption called Nigeria – Kunle Oderemi

Ongoing efforts to amend the 1999 Constitution fall short of the collective demands by a preponderance of stakeholders in the Nigerian project for restructuring. KUNLE ODEREMI writes on the underlining issues in restructuring.

At Independence on October 1, 1960, four constitutions were in operation in Nigeria. While there was the 1960 Independence Constitution, each of the three regions: East, West and North had their separate constitutions. Each region also had their individual representatives abroad in line with coordinate powers. The Independence Constitution had 52 items under the exclusive legislative list: 32 under concurrent. There was no residual power for local government because the federating units were federal government and the regions. Local governments have since been made third federating tier with key functions skewed in favour of the centre. The Federal Government exercises powers over 98 items, with 68 of them on the Exclusive List in the 1999 Constitution, while 33 are on the Concurrent List.

The subsisting arrangement in the First Republic was a catalyst for speedy economic development and transformation for the regions nay the country. It afforded them to achieve great strides and leaps in human capital development, industrial and infrastructure outlay. Erosion of the constitutional powers of the states via undue concentration of powers at the centre after the military putsch of 1966 threw spanners into the works for the country. The crisis became aggravated with the whimsical creation of states, and marked the rapid slip of the country from a federation to a unitary system imbued with all the powers of totalitarianism. The country became a guinea pig for all manner of political experiments, subject to the whims and caprices of a powerful clique. Whereas the 1978 Constituent Assembly was meant to correct the anomaly, the end product of the team, 1979 Constitution, merely scratched the core issues on the surface. The centre emerged awesomely powerful at the expense of states. From the regime of eight years to the five year-period of Abacha, the bohemian stature of the centre dwarfed the states as a critical and integral partner in the federation.

All efforts to whittle down the powers of the centre, restore the ideals of federalism and pave the way for competitive, healthy growth, development in a congenial political environment after military exit from office in 1999 have been frustrated. Moves by the Obasanjo administration in that regard crumbled on the altar ego of inordinate ambition and a tenure elongation plot. A pragmatic action that culminated in the 2014 Constitutional Conference, with more than a 600-page report that contained far-reaching recommendations, including restructuring, power devolution, citizenship,  fiscal federalism, system and form of government, has been kept in  abeyance. The recommendation of a committee set up by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) with Governor Nasir el-Rufai as chairman that the country be restructured, has also been gathering dust.

Faced with system failure and erosion of the gains of the period when Nigeria operated a well-structured federal arrangements, coupled with rising threats to the corporate existence of the country, stakeholders are vehemently pushing that the country be restructured and made to work again. Expedient measures such as federal character principle, quota system, power rotation cum zoning of key elective public offices, have not succeeded in tackling the miasma of challenges, defects, disequilibrium and injustice in the existing contraption. While a section of the country is perceived as believing that it is their right to govern and determine who must be the president of the country, others feel seriously subjugated and being treated as second-class citizens who must always hold the bottom of the knife after they had baked the proverbial national cake. An inequitable revenue sharing formula based on terms dictated by forces loyal to the establishment has consistently stoked the fire of schism, ethnicity, regionalism and anachronism. Institutions like the Armed Forces, federal civil service, ministries, departments and agencies are mired in controversies over lopsidedness, marginalisation and discrimination on ethnic backgrounds.

Composition of the main organs of government at the centre, including appointments into the top echelon and architecture of the security apparatus are skewed against all but one of the major ethnic nationalities in the country. The imbalance, according to the protagonists of restructuring, also manifests in the configurations in the leadership and membership of the two arms of the National Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

These issues, among others, underline the dizzying demand to restructure the country. Many northern leaders, who appeared opposed to restructuring, because of initial fear that it could lead to the dismemberment of the country, have joined the train. The consensus on the issue among many of the ethnic nationalities in the country now is that restructuring remains the path to Nigeria’s self-recovery and consolidation, because, in a their opinion, in the midst of enormous human, material and natural endowments, the country is enmeshed in crisis of confidence, identity; grinding poverty, deficit in infrastructure, violent crimes, massive youth unemployment, corruption, leadership ineptitude and absence of nationalism.

Crux of the matter

The challenges facing the country derive from the constitution, as much power is concentrated at the centre to subjugate the states and make them into pawns. So, the clamour for restructuring embraces the need for devolution of powers to the states. With the collapse of the First Republic in 1966, states do not have the power to prospect for non-oil mineral resources in their domains based on the provisions of Section 44(3) and Part 1, Item 39 of the 2nd Schedule (Exclusive Legislative List).

Another issue that acts as the veritable catalyst for calls for restructuring is the provisions of the two constitutions on the basis for revenue allocation.  The relevant portions on the issue are Section 140 of the 1963 Constitution, Section 44 and Section 162 (2) of the 1999 Constitution.

In Section 141, the Republican Constitution, provided, among other things, that the proportion for the payment of monies to the then regions (North, East, West and Mid-West) from the Distributable Pool Account. Not used to the principles of federalism, the military subverted the tradition and custom after taking over power and sustained the aberration through the promulgation of the 1999 Constitution. Thus, states now rely on handouts from the Federal Government to survive like federal parastatals that depend on monthly subvention from the centre to remain afloat. The subjugation of states is brought to a proper perspective by a prominent legal practitioner, Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN). The Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who spoke on the defects in the existing federal arrangement, observed: “The Federal Government exercises 98 items of power. 68 of these items are on the Exclusive List in the 1999 Constitution, while 33 are on the Concurrent List. Only the Federal Government can exercise powers on the exclusive list. The states can only exercise powers on the concurrent list if the Federal Government is not interested.” He said the structure has a number of implications, stating that “This means that Nigeria is not a federation but a unitary state…The contradictions thrown up by this process is the result of the chaos and contagion you see in Nigeria.”

Restructuring, 1963 and 1999 constitutions

Many advocates of restructuring fancy what they perceived as the beauty and prospect that the 1963 Constitution represents in the political history of Nigeria. It divested the country a lot of the vestiges of the colonial period. The constitutional framework introduced republican government into the country for the first time. While the constitution was essentially predicated on the provisions of the pre and Independence Constitutions, the existing 1999 Constitution is a hybrid of the 1979 Constitution fashioned by the regime of Obasanjo as a military head of state.  Another dissimilarity was that while the 1963 Constitution was a product of a constitutional conference with representatives of major stakeholders across the country as the drafters,  the 1999 constitution was written by a  few military ‘apologists’ with no recourse to the collective wishes and aspirations of the ethnic nationalities making up the country.

Of particular relevance again in the ongoing demand for restructuring is the fact that the 1963 constitution underlined the distinct federating units in Nigeria: Centre and four regions. Regrettably, the 1999 Constitution only sought to retain the status quo that has been the main source of instability and rancour even after the era of military interregnum. Another slur is that the existing constitution consolidated local government as a federating unit, despite the inequity in representation.  Under the 1963 constitution, local governments were under the exclusive preserve of the regions in totality, not as semi-autonomous entities. The creation and management of the administration of local council were under the regions.

A roadmap

A former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, is among the staunch advocates of restructuring. He shared the views of many others that no amount of “piecemeal amendment” could restore and reflect true federalism, thus his suggestion that the 1963 Republican Constitution should serve as a replacement, pending the time a new constitution would be put in place for the country. Akande said: “The 1999 Constitution is Nigeria’s greatest misadventure since Lugard’s amalgamation of 1914. The constitution puts emphasis on spending rather than making money, thereby intensifying the battles for supremacy between the legislature and the executive while the judiciary is being corruptly tainted and discredited. The constitution breeds and protects corrupt practices and criminal impunity in governance. The 1999 Constitution can never be beneficially reviewed and the ongoing piecemeal adjustments or amendments can only totally blot the essence of national values and accelerate the de-amalgamation of Nigeria.

“All the angels coming from heaven cannot make that constitution work for the progress of Nigeria. It should only be scrapped as bad relics of military mentality; and it ought to be temporarily replaced with the 1963 Republican Constitution to enable a transition for the writing of a suitable constitution. Otherwise, the 1999 Constitution would continue to dwarf Nigeria’s economy and stifle the country’s social structure pending a disastrous and catastrophic bankruptcy.”

For a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, there has to be a change of attitude by the present federal administration towards the report of the 2014 National Conference in view of the rising demand for restructuring. Akinyemi, who was the deputy chairman of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC), said that the recommendations are far-reaching on contentious issues that have continued to plague the country.

Renowned cleric, Pastor Tunde  Bakare  expressed a similar disposition, saying: “We can’t continue with these parastatals called states.” According to him, all those opposed to restructuring and the confab report will soon realise that the current political structure cannot be sustained because of the rising decline of resources to run the structures. Bakare, who among other senior citizens reflected on the seething anger over the present contraption, called for the devolution of powers to states, recalling the tremendous progress and greater height Nigeria attained in the First Republic under a true federal structure.

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